A briefing paper from the House of Commons Library provides an overview of the existing legal framework for electric scooters (e-scooters). It also analyses the arguments for and against legalising e-scooters on UK roads, drawing on the limited evidence from other countries and cities that have sanctioned their use.
Micromobility devices – such as electric scooters (e-scooters) – could help to solve the urban transport challenge of poor air quality stemming from increased congestion. However, they are currently banned from UK roads and pavements. Since 4 July, local areas have been able to run e-scooter rental trials, for use on roads, cycle lanes and tracks only, for up to 12 months. The trial end date has been extended to Spring 2022.
Legal status of e-scooters
While it is legal to buy or sell an e-scooter (classed as a battery-powered personal transport device), riding them on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes is against the law. Riders could face a £300 fine and six points on their licence if they use them on public roads or pavements. Riding e-scooters on private land is legal with the landowner’s permission.
The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (SI 2020/663) provide the legislative basis for the e-scooter trials. They define ‘e-scooters’ and amend road traffic regulations to exempt e-scooters being used in a trial from certain requirements of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Even in local authority areas which decide to run trials, it will still be illegal to ride a privately owned (non-trial) e-scooter on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes.
Views differ on the potential benefits and problems presented by e-scooters. Some believe that they offer solutions to a wide range of transport policy goals (such as reducing pollution, congestion), while others believe that they are potentially dangerous and may undermine messaging about active travel and green transport.
Three of the key issues are:
Journey replacement for cars, public transport and other modes: E-scooters could help cut congestion and improve air quality in urban areas. In cities that allow e-scooters, it is not clear whether e-scooter trips have replaced car journeys. Rather, some are concerned they have replaced trips that would otherwise be walked, cycled, taken by kick scooters or by public transport. This would negate both the supposed congestion-alleviating benefits and could have negative health impacts, through reduced physical activity.
Tackling climate change: Proponents of e-scooters suggest they can help cut everyday carbon emissions by getting people out of their cars. However, several studies suggest the short lifespan of e-scooters means these carbon savings may be minimal, if achieved at all.
Safety concerns: Stakeholders have expressed concerns over: whether micromobility devices are physically robust and safe by design; whether users have the skills to use them safely; how they interact with other vehicles, road users and pedestrians; and how liability is handled when accidents occur.
E-scooter rental trials, 2020-
From 4 July 2020, local areas in England, Scotland and Wales have been able to undertake 12-month e-scooter rental trials, provided they meet DfTs requirements. The trial end date has been extended until March 2022. During the trials:
Rental e-scooters will be allowed on roads and cycle lanes, but will continue to be banned from pavements.
E-scooters will be limited to a maximum speed of 15.5 mph.
Riders should wear helmets, but they will not be mandatory.
Privately-owned e-scooters will remain illegal.
Riders will need a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence to use the devices, and they must be aged 16 or over.
The trials will be used will to inform future government policy and possible legislative change. Trials have been launched in 32 trial areas across a mixture of towns, cities, local authorities and combined mayoral authority areas. The Transport Committee welcomed the Government’s e-scooter trials ahead of work to examine the legal status of e-scooters, which they said should draw on lessons from other countries so as to avoid potential negative impacts on pedestrians and disabled people.
The paper is available in full here.
House of Commons Library August 2021